Earlier this year I started doing this Thing:
I write a poem using three words each submitted by my friends, family, community, and now, from you. It’s been a source of comfort, empowerment, hope, and understanding, especially during the isolation of the Covid pandemic and the turmoil of America’s race wars.
These poems have helped put words to what we’re all experiencing, have provided comfort, and connected strangers. A bright spot in these days.
Love in Embrace
Why Mama? I don’t know what death is. But birth is the womb of the ocean breathing over the lands. We were all abandoned by a mother who could not shelter us forever in her arms. Her children grew, butterflies in her stomach, somersaulting to sounds of jazz played on the piano. Pictures showed them white on a black screen. For a summer, there was nothing but the overwhelm of trying to prepare for a better life than she had. How could she share what she couldn’t see? The more time she spent on this path the harder to focus when she looked up. Lean in too far and she would not be rescued from her own imbalance. There would be no more vacation. Days would no longer be light and breezy. And so, with a sigh she released us and put her palm to our backs. In this singular calm she kissed our head like a postmark. “Come back to me. I will listen for you. You will know it is me by the heat of my blood. And I will come like a blaze against your tormentor. And I will paint the sky and the streets ebony.” Your name will be Truth.
I’m Not Relaxing While It’s Sunny
The pain is slow, nesting. Each day starts overcast by intense sunshine, spring inspiring gratitude and grief. Distracted, by the zoom of a curve— a cancer frustrating the lungs overwhelmed by pomegranate seeds wedding to balls of snow. It does not survive the hot, they say. Each day wakening to a curious family— I am the new housekeeper. Productive parenting looks like a hectic jackrabbit: Shredding travel plans to Lany. Rewarding the dog with lemon bars. Laundry. Create my own masala with spices we have on hand. Grounding the kids in loving, laughter. The tiny moments are most enlightening: I’m thankful for a paperclip, accomplishing what I cannot— holding it all together. Shamed, I drink whiskey from the moonshine. By evening, I am tired already from the early worry of tomorrow.
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We Are the Class of 2020
We are not the class of pomp and circumstance.
We are not the class of normal.
We are not the class of grandparents at our graduation.
We are not the class of prom and sports practice.
We are not the class of state championships.
We are not the class of debate tournaments.
We are not the class of silly nights out or long bus trips home.
We are not the class of passing notes in classrooms.
We are not the class of frivolousness.
We are not the class of innocent kisses.
We are not the class of long frolicking days of summer.
Will we even have a summer?
No, we are not the class of pomp and circumstance.
We are the class that broke the pandemic.
We are the class of peaceful protests.
We are the class that altered the election and toppled the power structure.
We are the class that watched our nation burn.
We are the class that raised our fists.
We are the class that said, Enough!
We are the class that survived.
We are the class that washed our hands, and cleaned the sky.
We are the class of hindsight, foresight, and renewed sight.
We are the Class of 2020.
Our Alliterative Selves
Me and Matt Mabry, Matt Mabry and me, made what-ifs of Walt Whitman, and whatchamacallthese. We wrote writs and wagged wits and waged wars. Today, to this day, it’s too tough to think of him. How is he, His happenings. How happy is he? He’s hung his hat and hardened his heart for the fun of it. For fear, from _______, to be free. Possibly he’s playing the piano, pounding at the porcelain keys. Kicking the Kabbala. Killing. In Kosovo? Could be crying. Could be cringing. Catch me looking. Leering into layers of the labyrinth. Losing life. Living loss. Loving Lesbians. Sweetly spinning, sickeningly spiraling, swapping revolutions. Ready to resolve what’s ripping us. Reaping what’s been retched by Republicans. Democracy’s dying, and dear darlings gnashing and gnarring. Getting gnarled in the great giant city of Gaddafi’s. Matt Mabry, Matt Mabry, what do you make of me? All these annals after, I’m asking about you. Yearning the yearner. Yet you’ll never know how I’m needlessly kneading my knuckles, forgetting I’m forgotten—fact or fiction?— formidably forgiving my foes. Me and Matt Mabry, Matt Mabry and me, made holes in the hollows, and halves out of the holes. Have you had your humility? How have you been?
[Note: I wrote this poem years ago about a college friend who, in my life, had disappeared. I tried to find him, looked him up online, nothing. Until, a few months after I read this at my first poetry reading, a mutual friend messaged me that Matt had died, shot, not too far from where, apparently, we both now lived, in the Pacific Northwest. The poem is still in process, as much art and writing are….]